Journalism and Unions: It’s Been a Rocky Road

For most of the day on Thursday, DNAinfo, Gothamist and DCist were all living, breathing publications, covering their home cities and neighborhoods with their characteristic granularity. On Thursday at 5 p.m., however, all these publications had disappeard from the Internet, their sites replaced by a letter from Joe Ricketts, their billionaire owner. The letter said: DNAInfo and Gothamist—and all the other sites within their networks of publications—were shutting down for good. According to the New York Times, the decision came a week after the employees of DNAInfo and Gothamist voted to unionize.

Washington Post on November  3, 2017
The Gothamist network of local news websites announced Thursday afternoon that it would be shutting down, including the DCist site in Washington. DNAinfo in New York will also shutter. The announcement comes about a week after its New York writers voted to unionize.

Washington Post on November 3, 2017
Ricketts pointed to his bank account when he announced the decision to close New York news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist, along with sister sites in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Shanghai. Here’s an excerpt from his statement:

A lot of what I believed would happen did, but not all of it. . . . DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure.

What Ricketts failed to mention is that his journalist employees had defied him by voting last week to unionize. The sudden closure of the sites looks more like scorched-earth vengeance than a “difficult decision,” as Ricketts called it.
New York Times on October 11, 1975
WASHINGTON, Oct. 11—In the second week of the strike by pressmen at The Washington Post, the nation’s seventh largest newspaper, the editorially liberal, pro‐labor daily has apparently begun to reveal a carefully prepared and determined strategy to lessen its unions’ power to disrupt publication by using their principal weapon—the withholding of labor. On Wednesday, the mailers’ and photoengravers’ unions joined the strike.

The result, many here now feel, may be a long newspaper labor war. Negotiations were suspended Thursday with a report of “no progress,” and no date set to resume them.

Post executives said earlier they had been shocked and outraged by the disabling of the newspaper’s presses as the pressmen’s strike began Oct. 1, but have repeatedly denied charges of union oficials that “Post management is out to destroy the unions.”

Although it is now known that The Post had extensively prepared itself to he able to continue publication with no union employes, if necessary—only members of the Newspaper Guild, the editorial and clerical union, have stayed and Post officials say they were unprepared for the loss of their pressroom facilities.

A day after the strike began, however, the Post resumed limited publication with the help of the nonunion press rooms of six outlying newspapers.

New York Times on December 13, 1975
WASHINGTON, Dec. 13—The 10‐week strike by pressmen at The Washington Post neared a climax today as a result of the newspaper’s announced “hard decision” to replace its 200 pressmen with nonunion workers beginning tomorrow.

As the pressmen’s union faced the prospect of being ousted at another major metropolitan newspaper—as it has already at other papers in Miami, Dallas, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles and New Haven, among others—more than 1,000 Washington‐area unionists rallied today outside The Post’s heavily guarded building in a protest called by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council.

The peaceful demonstration included renewed appeals from union leaders for a subscriber and advertiser boycott of The Post, a denunciation of union members—chiefly in the Newspaper Guild — who have continued working at no struck paper, and the burning in effigy of Katharine Graham, The Post publisher.
Here’s a 2015 Washington Post story, “Why Internet journalists don’t organize” by Lydia DePillis. The deck:

The booming world of web media is almost entirely non-union, for reasons that are as much generational as structural.
A link to a 2012 Vanity Fair story, The Long Goodbye, by Scott Sherman, about the New York City newspaper strike that changed the relationship of newspapers and unions. The deck:

Fifty years ago this month, striking printers shut down seven New York City newspapers. The strike would last for 114 days and helped to kill four of those newspapers. “This was an absolutely unnecessary strike,” recalls Tom Wolfe, who worked for the doomed Herald Tribune. Deep down it was about technological disruption—a foreshadowing of dislocations that roil the newspaper industry in our own time. As a newspaper town, New York was never the same again.

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